From in-person meetings to online videoconferencing, technology has made communicating with employees and clients easier and more affordable than ever. Whether you connect using a software, mobile app or social media, here are 12 collaboration tools to consider for your small business.
Everyone has their preferred way of attending online meetings. BlueJeans cloud-based video communications gives attendees the flexibility of joining videoconferences using a Web browser, desktop app or mobile phone, all while making meetings more productive with a wide range of collaboration features that are available across platforms. This includes the ability to host meetings in conference rooms and town halls, share screens and record meetings. BlueJeans also makes it easy to combine workflows, such as scheduling meetings using Outlook, chat using Skype and other integrations with popular business apps and services. Users who don’t have a video- or audio-capable devices can also phone in to join meetings. BlueJeans starts at $9.95 per meeting host per month.
Meetings aren’t just for discussing goals and ideas. Do offers an all-in-one tool that aims to help businesses hold more productive meetings by making sure things are getting done. This collaboration tool helps users create agendas, keep notes, track progress and follow up on tasks to increase productivity. Do is also searchable, making it easy to find meeting items and improve accountability amongst teams and employees. The platform also comes with an Insights feature, which lets businesses track how much time and money are being spent on meetings to make them more efficient. Do costs $10 per month per user.
3. Google Hangouts
Whether you need to make voice calls or video calls, or simply chat and send multimedia messages, Google Hangouts makes all types of group collaboration super easy — regardless of your team members’ locations and devices. From desktops to Android and iOS mobile devices, Hangouts lets you connect with up to 10 people from all over the world. You can make voice calls straight from your computer (calls to the US and Canada are free), as well as hold videoconferences and even live-stream meetings and events. The service also lets you keep a history of your Hangouts, so you can always go back to old conversations for reference. Google Hangouts is free. Paid subscriptions are also available to increase the number of people you can connect to in a single session.
Are your employees always on the go? Broadview Networks’ OfficeSuite is a cloud-based communications system that’s fully accessible anytime, anywhere. In addition to audio, Web and video conferencing, OfficeSuite also offers unlimited nationwide calling, toll-free phone service, digital faxing and the following mobility features: Mobile Twinning, which makes all incoming calls ring your desk and mobile phone simultaneously; Hot Desking to enable incoming and outgoing calls from any phone; and Virtual Voicemail to receive notifications and messages from any phone, online or by email. Contact Broadview Networks for pricing information.
If you need a basic, easy-to-use Web-conferencing solution, Citrix’s free GoToMeeting can get you started immediately. Just use its one-click meeting feature to quickly schedule meetings straight from Outlook or Google Calendar. In addition to HD videoconferecing, GoToMeeting also comes with dozens of useful tools to help your meetings be more productive and interactive. This includes screen sharing, Web audio, a dial-in conference line, drawing tools and the ability to record meetings. GoToMeeting starts at $24 per month for up to five people. If you need more participants and features, check out the Pro plan ($39 per month) for 25 attendees and the Plus plan ($49 per month) plans for up to 100 attendees. A free 30-day trial is also available.
HP’s ZBook Studio G3 is a powerful workstation you can actually take with you. That’s because the system is pretty thin and light for a PC with such beefed-up hardware. Plus, the ZBook — reviewed at $2,651 and starting at $1,399 — can handle the most graphically demanding workloads, and features a sleek, sturdy design and solid security credentials.
The ZBook Studio G3 is surprisingly thin and light for a Windows workstation, weighing just 4.6 lbs. and measuring 0.71 inches thick. That puts it on a par with Dell’s Precision 5510 workstation (14.06 x 9.27 x 0.66 inches and 4.6 lbs.), but it’s more portable than larger Windows workstations such as Lenovo’s 17.3-inch ThinkPad P70 (7.6 lbs. and 1.2 inches thick). That’s a perk for commuters who need to carry their laptop between home and the office.
And anyone who needs to lug around their laptop will appreciate the ZBook Studio G3’s tough design. The notebook comes with MIL-Spec 810G durability credentials, which means it was tested to withstand vibrations, shocks, extreme temperatures and even short drops. Plus, a textured diamond pattern on the system’s underside will help you keep a good grip when you’re toting the ZBook around.
Just about every port a worker could want is available here. The notebook’s left edge includes two USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet port. The right edge, meanwhile, adds two Thunderbolt ports, an HDMI port and a third USB 3.0 port.
The proliferation of more advanced technology means the way people do business is ever-changing. Developments such as the internet of things (IoT) present a variety of diverse opportunities across many industries, remaking the modern workplace and streamlining its operations. This shift is evident in the trend toward creating the so-called smart office — also known as the responsive or digital workplace — in which technology is used to make the physical work environment intelligent and adaptable to company workflows. “‘Responsive’ means that every aspect of the workplace campus, from collaborative tools to the built space, is able to respond to an individual’s needs and context,” Campbell Hyers, president of integrated solutions group of technology and media company Intersection, told Business News Daily. “The opportunity in workplace campus design is to build amenities that improve both experience and the bottom line.”
The idea behind the responsive workplace is to unify operations under one system and empower that system with machine-learning capabilities. By doing so, businesses can get more out of their employees while keeping them happier, as well as analyze a vast amount of data to make more informed business decisions.
“A smart office will be a tech-heavy office that will leverage technology to automate routine and everyday tasks to really optimize how we do work,” said Luka Birsa, co-founder and chief technical officer of Visionect, a digital-signage company. “Smart offices will boost productivity by freeing up employee time to do real work — the work technology can’t do.”
Here are just a few examples of what a smart office might include:
- Internet of things: “IoT will definitely be involved in the smart office,” said Lou Reinisch, associate provost at the New York Institute of Technology. “Smart lights, thermostats, virtual reality cameras, virtual reality speakers, etc. are all instrumental to the smart office.”
- Machine learning: “Machine intelligence is also showing up in fields like knowledge and management,” Hyers said. “Think about how powerful it is for a computer to be able to tell you the best person to speak with about a particular feature in your company’s product suite. The new workplace should be like a gym that has all of the equipment that you could never have at home, but instead of exercise, the workplace makes you faster, stronger and smarter.”
- Interconnectivity and control: “We also use a lot of smart devices — smart switches, dimmers, relays — to control everything in our school and office, from light to power consumption,” Julien Cyr, chief engineer at the San Francisco-based Holberton School. “We have a lot of sensors, too — UV, temperature, lux — and all of the automation systems [are] connected to our apps, like Slack, so we can order a coffee from a Slack Channel, as well as dim the light of a specific desk!”
By incorporating these and other technologies, companies can reduce their energy consumption, improve employee morale and boost productivity. However, when building a smart office, it is important to remember that not every business’s needs are the same.
“The smart office is up to date with the available technology best suited for [a particular industry],” said Ervis Zeqo, business development manager and IT security consultant at eMazzanti Technologies. “That might be IoT for a manufacturer, VR for a design firm or AI for a big data company. What is smart for one may not be for another, and it’s always changing.”
There is also a high bar for adoption; all of the technology required to build a truly smart office is expensive. Moreover, there aren’t a lot of test cases in the market right now, so many companies might be hesitant to make the initial investment required to implement a responsive workplace program without the assurance that it will really provide a return.
“The major obstacle is to convince companies that the improved productivity is worth the initial investment to build the smart office,” Reinisch said. “Many companies tend to base decisions on ‘benchmarking.’ Since this sort of office is not common, it will not be in any of the benchmark comparisons. Offices like this will only be built in companies with creative employees and where the bosses trust the creative employees to know what the employees need.”
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The process of 3D printing is quickly altering the way entrepreneurs think about their production cycles. Historically, 3D printing has been used to speed up the process of creating prototypes, but as the technology has evolved, 3D printing has made its way into large industries like the aerospace and biomedical fields. And it’s creating some groundbreaking results.
While 3D printers still have a long way to go before they are perfected, their increased adoption by companies big and small has signaled a change in thinking for businesses, during both the design and production phases. To find out more about how 3D printing technology is affecting business today and where it’s going in the future, Business News Daily spoke to engineers and entrepreneurs about the possibilities afforded by 3D printers.
First of all, what is 3D printing? It’s the process by which three-dimensional digital models are made into physical objects using a 3D printer. Working in tandem with computer software, the 3D printer reads a digital .STS file on a computer and then uses a filament or a resin to render the digital representation in tangible material, layer by layer.
3D printers employ a variety of materials, including plastics and polymers, steel, titanium, gold, and ceramic. This versatility means 3D printed models can be used for everything from artistic sculptures to airplane components. Some 3D printers can even print proteins and chemicals, enabling the devices to create foods and medicines.
“I don’t think there’s a component made today that won’t somehow be touched by 3D printing in some fashion or another, whether directly or indirectly,” said Mark Cola, president and CEO of 3D printing and quality assurance company Sigma Labs.
Most experts agree major developments in 3D printing are just a few years around the corner, and these advances will revolutionize the way businesses think about manufacturing and their supply chains. First, let’s take a look at some of the ways businesses are already using 3D printers.
Applications for 3D printers
One of the oldest uses for 3D printers is the quick and efficient creation of prototypes. Since the printers were invented in 1983, companies have employed 3D printing in order to get a workable model of their desired end product, either to test the concept or present it to future investors.
“Before we called it 3D printing, it was called rapid prototyping,” Greg Paulsen, director of project engineering for third-party manufacturer Xometry, said. “It used to be seen as a way to get close enough to a functional model.”
Now, that’s changing. While entrepreneurs still gladly use 3D printing for prototyping, the technology has become more accessible and adaptable, leading to new applications.
Though 3D printers can be slow-moving, they’re adept at fulfilling low-volume production needs. Much like with prototyping, if an entrepreneur is ready to launch a new product and isn’t certain of the demand, he or she can print up a small amount to test the waters. Low-volume production is also common when it comes to medical devices, for example, as manufacturers create, test and redesign their products for optimization.
“When small companies develop new products and need to make 50 parts to test, or just to bring to a trade show, tooling up for traditional manufacturing can be very expensive,” Doug Collins, owner of Avid 3D Printing, said. “They might not have the capital to tackle [traditional manufacturing]. 3D printers allow low-volume production without as much investment, so they can save that capital for the other important stuff, like marketing.”
Another beneficial use for 3D printers in is the creation of mechanical parts, either for sale in large industries or for personal repairs. Many products of 3D printing aren’t sold directly to consumers, but are created by companies (or third-party contractors) as components in a larger project. One example is GE Aviation’s 3D printed fuel nozzle, which will be added to the company’s CFM LEAP airplane engines.
Small machine shops or individuals looking to make home repairs can also employ the same techniques for their projects. 3D printing has made it far easier to reproduce parts for machines that might no longer be in production or that would take too long to arrive.
“I grew up in a small town of about 5,000 people. My stepfather is a mechanic, and he often needs to get specific parts that aren’t immediately available,” said Brent Hale, owner of 3D printing review website 3D Forged. “Rather than having to drive out of town to get a single part, or instead of having to wait weeks for a custom part to come in, if my stepfather or the small local hardware [store] have a 3D printer, he can purchase the printable schematics for the part he needs directly from the manufacturer — or design them himself — upload them to the 3D printer, and have his new part without having to leave town or wait weeks for the part to be shipped to him.”
The term “virtual reality” (VR) might invoke memories of the 1982 cult classic “Tron,” but VR has evolved to the point where yesterday’s fiction is quickly becoming today’s reality. Now, this technology is poised to fundamentally change the way business people interact with, test-drive and market their products.
But the potential uses for VR don’t stop there; experts agree that in the future, VR will offer even more powerful capabilities to businesses and individuals alike.
It’s worth mentioning VR’s relation to augmented reality (AR), which uses 3D models to “augment” the real, physical world. VR, on the other hand, creates an environment that’s entirely separate from the one you’re standing in. Some experts told Business News Daily that they expect these technologies to converge over time. Indeed, that trend is already visible with the creation of products like Microsoft’s HoloLens, a headset with immense processing power that enables users to access both VR and AR programs.
Virtual reality’s business applications
From taking stock of inventory to hosting virtual conferences, VR can be applied to a slew of business needs. In general, VR allows users to immerse themselves in an environment that synthesizes a vast amount of data and presents it in a way that’s simple to understand and navigate. That data can then be stored and archived so that users can monitor trends over time.
Virtual reality is especially effective for marketing, because it creates an opportunity for businesses to establish a strong emotional connection among target consumers and their product.
“Right now, the most successful business use is marketing experience,” Maria Korolov, editor and publisher of business tech publication Hypergrid Business, said. “You take a little bit of your product, put it into a virtual environment and have people use it. It’s particularly popular with movies. You get the eye contact, you feel like you’re in a different location.”
“Brands will use virtual reality to improve customer experience that will ultimately result in the increase of customer loyalty,” added Sylvester Kaczmarek, a VR advisor and consultant for startups. “The aim for such VR initiatives should be to give the customers immersive and interactive experience that would increase their association with the product.”
VR can also be used in highly sensitive fields to ensure that employees are well-trained and qualified before they undertake important or potentially dangerous tasks. In the health care industry, for example, VR can be used to train and test surgeons before they actually operate on somebody. Some experts said that in the near future, VR might even be capable of simulating resistance as the surgeon operates on the virtual person.
“In health care specifically, employees can be tested on their proficiency in performing procedures in a virtual operating room,” Kayla Gallico, co-founder of VR arcade Arcane Reality, said. “Employers can determine if their potential employees have what it takes to work in the industry.”
What does the future of VR look like?
Of course, as the price point drops and the technology becomes even more powerful, more businesses will begin to employ VR techniques. Moreover, companies like Microsoft and Sony are starting to develop more sophisticated headsets that support both AR and VR offerings, making both easily accessible on the same platform.
“VR and AR will begin to blur [into] ‘mixed reality,'” said Todd Richmond, IEEE member and director of prototype development at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. “Both are really about trying to combine the digital and the analog/human into some sort of experience.”
According to Richmond, VR technology is already starting to make its way into the business world after finding its entryway through the world of gaming.
“Currently, you’ve got VR starting to make inroads in entertainment,” Richmond said. “Architecture and real estate are embracing VR, and manufacturing and design are working with VR and AR. We’ve been using VR in health care for some time — for example, using it to treat PTSD — and that will be a huge growth industry for both VR and AR. Education is another adoption area.”
Contemporary iterations of VR still only scratch the surface of what many people expect for the future.
“One prediction for the next year: Individuals visiting VR worlds will finally become active participants instead of bystanders, as motion-capture devices transfer their actual movements and gestures in real time to virtual reality,” Shaun Walker, creative director and co-founder of marketing firm Herofarm, said.
Kirwan McHarry, marketing director for drone manufacturer Mota Group, believes that VR sensors will become smaller and lighter, while computing power will increase.
“This could mean greater image fidelity, more precise motion detection, along with lighter weight and lower cost,” McHarry said. “Another development may be the increased adoption of very lightweight goggle frames, such as the carbon-fiber headsets used in aviation.”
If McHarry’s prediction is accurate — and it seems to be the consensus among experts — VR and AR will quickly develop into a powerful tool, which can be coupled with the genesis of “smart objects” in the internet of things to create a radically different business landscape than the one we’re used to today.
If you own a business, you probably juggle dozens of tasks each day just to keep it running. With so many responsibilities, a pen-and-paper to-do list just won’t cut it. That’s where your iPhone comes in: With the right apps and a little know-how, there are countless ways to plan your day, week, month and year. And if you just need to remember to make an important business call one hour from now, there’s an app for that, too.
Every iPhone comes with Apple’s own Calendar app, which offers basic functionality to help you schedule meetings, remember appointments and more. But the default app can’t do it all. Other apps offer deeper options and more streamlined functionality to help you stay on top of your daily duties. Here are five of the best.
Fantastical 2 is a top-rated alternative to the stock iPhone calendar app because it strikes a great balance between deep features and ease of use. It has all the features of competing apps, including the ability to view your calendar by day, week, month or year, and easily drill down to view individual events. And it lets you add events using natural speech, such as “Meet Ted for lunch at 2:00 on Tuesday.” Fantastical 2 parses your sentence to fill in all the relevant information and then automatically notifies you when the event approaches. Most important, the app is intuitive and easy to use. For example, moving an event to a different time or day is as easy as tapping and holding, and then dragging it to the correct spot on your calendar.
Every technological advancement creates new ways of doing business, but augmented reality (AR) is a particularly versatile development. AR offers entrepreneurs a way to thoroughly enhance day-to-day business operations; whether it’s hosting meetings or showcasing products, this developing technology holds great promise for revamping the way we think about doing business. Business News Daily spoke with some industry experts about how AR is already changing the workplace, as well as some ways it might be applied in the near future.
Augmented reality’s business applications
Augmented reality is distinct from virtual reality in that it offers users graphical enhancements to their real, physical environment, rather than creating an entirely new environment. Experts predict an explosion of creative uses as the technology becomes more ubiquitous.
“The retail space has dipped their toe in AR briefly. For instance, Ikea used AR so customers could see how a couch would look in their living room, or if that color rug would work with their room design,” Joe Arcuri, director of product and user experience at Overit, said. “[The technology] could also be applied to the construction industry. How cool would it be to see what a future house will look like on a plot of land, or how a deck or addition could look within the current environment?”
James Kovach, senior vice president of business development for AR company CrowdOptic, said many of their clients in the healthcare and athletic industries are already taking advantage of augmented reality in order to bring important data – like a doctor monitoring patient’s blood pressure or a football coach analyzing a player’s acceleration – into one, easy to access space.
“AR has the same value proposition across the entire spectrum,” Kovach said. “An individual is looking at something through smart glasses, and AR compiles contextual information to assist that person, whether it’s [a physician] treating a patient or you’re in an office and trying to learn something.”
Here’s a quick look at how this versatile technology is currently used, and how it could evolve in the future to radically change the way people think about doing business.
Augmented reality can completely change the way geographically dispersed employees connect. When the team holds a meeting, remote workers can often be detached from the group or become easily distracted. With AR, however, it’s as if everybody is actually present in the room. The meeting instantly becomes more engaging for the remote workers, and those who are physically present are more likely to include them in the discussion. Even subtle things like eye contact and facial expressions can really increase the effectiveness of your collaborative efforts.
“Augmented reality for business offers promise both in communicating with customers, and within the organizations themselves for work functions,” said Gareth Price, technical director for Ready Set Rocket. “AR brings the internet from being contained on a screen to becoming part of the fabric of the world around us, which will benefit businesses with a physical presence.”
Training and education
Training employees with AR technology creates an immersive, interactive experience across multiple senses, which is far more effective than a typical lecture or simply reading instructions. With either on screen instructions or layered graphics, users can be shown complex processes step-by-step, or given prompts and instruction on a certain task. Using these methods, AR offers the capability to increase the depth of the training process, while expediting it at the same time.
Augmented reality also promises improved knowledge in the realm of repairs, where even inexperienced people can fix complex machines. By demonstrating each component part of a machine and precisely what needs to be done to access and then repair it, AR overlays can illustrate step-by-step the process of repairing virtually anything.
“In the workplace, AR has promising practical applications, such as an engineer being able to see an overlay of a piece of machinery with repair information or sensor readings such as temperature,” Price said.
In many cases, a business is only as good as the technology it uses, especially when processing customer calls. Traditional business phone systems are quickly being replaced with VoIP (voice over internet protocol) systems. These often include features such as online fax services, conferencing, call recording, call routing and automated phone answering. Updating your call center solution can help you better support customers and manage call volume. But all change comes with some challenges. Based on our own interviews and product research, as well as research notes from our sister site Top Ten Reviews, here’s how to overcome a few key obstacles you may face as you shift to a new contact center software solution. Cost of updating telephone hardware If you are updating to VoIP business phones and call center software, you may need to update your phones and support hardware. If this is the case, you can purchase or lease phones, or you can use telephone headsets connected to your PCs. Most phone services are compatible with a variety of Cisco and Polycom phones, but you’ll want to verify model numbers to see if your exact phones are supported.
If you already own satisfactory traditional phones, you may be able to save money by purchasing or leasing adaptors to make your phones compatible with internet-based services. Other expenses may include routers, Ethernet lines and other items.
Learning curve and training
New technologies require training. Most call center software companies should provide training materials as well as paid, in-person training if needed. The best services will also help you set up your phones, automated answering and phone routing.
As with any new technology, some employees may be resistant. It will help to take advantage of training opportunities offered by your provider. Don’t overwhelm your team, though: Take training slow and get the basics mastered first.
Internet and network issues
If you are using VoIP phones along with your call center software, performance is dependent on your internet service. Most experts recommend 100 Kbps per VoIP phone for optimal and dependable performance. If you have been using traditional landlines, you may need to update your business internet to support your new phone system. While your internet bill may increase, the cost of your monthly phone bill should go down compared to landline phones.
If your business is in an area without fast internet, you may have to stick with your traditional phones. Alternatively, if you cannot support a large group of customer or technical support phone lines and employees, you may want to consider outsourcing your phone support to a call center service.
Fluctuating monthly costs
Charges for call center software usually accrue by usage per phone line. Some marketing material uses the phrase “unlimited calling,” but the fine print often says you must stay within “fair usage” or something similar. Some services will even charge different prices for high-volume use. For example, a provider may have a rate for a block of minutes, but the pricing per minute may go down as the volume increases.
The United States and Canada are typically included as “free” minutes with a U.S.-based service. If you need international calling, look for a business phone services that provides the best terms for the countries you need to call. You’ll also want to carefully review all the rates and fees in your contract before signing. In addition, your reports should be able to help you estimate your monthly bill.
Many customers of business phone services have reported a variety of issues that you may want to evaluate when setting up your new phone system.
- Call porting. You can “port” your old business phone number to your new phone system. This is usually not instantaneous, however, and may come with some technical difficulties.
- Bad sound quality. This could be related to your internet services provider, but it may also be due to your hardware or the service. You’ll have to figure out the issue and fix it before it causes problems with your customer support.
- Number of phone adaptors. While you can use your old, analog phones if paired with adaptors, you’ll need one adaptor per phone line. So purchase and lease fees may add up quickly.
- Power outages. If you use an on-site PBX (private branch exchange), power outages could leave you without service. However, a cloud-based system can be configured to route calls to mobile devices or another call center.
- Wired versus wireless. You can run Ethernet lines to every phone, or you can use wireless Wi-Fi phones. This option means you must increase the number of routers and charge stations to support the phones.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as “drones,” have made quite the splash with hobbyists and entrepreneurs alike since bursting into the civilian sphere. On June 21, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new rules on civilian drone usage, known as “Part 107.” Those rules will go into effect Aug. 29, and many entrepreneurs are chomping at the bit to get their drone-based ventures off the ground, literally.
To find out more about drones and the vast range of applications they offer for business owners, we spoke with several industry insiders and UAV experts about what the future holds for the technology. Their answers demonstrate that these unmanned aircraft are versatile tools that can change existing businesses and help establish new startups.
“Drone adoption has been growing rapidly — 300,000 drones were registered within the first month after the FAA opened its registration site — and there are simply not enough pilots of manned aircraft to keep up with demand,” Mike Winn, CEO and co-founder of software company DroneDeploy, said. “The most significant change under Part 107 is that operating drones commercially no longer requires a pilot’s license and a Section 333 exemption. Up until this point, the need for a licensed pilot and the lack of regulatory clarity were the most significant bottlenecks for many businesses looking to expand drone operations.”
“Essentially, you can use a drone as long as it is less than 55 pounds, within eyesight by a certified ‘remote pilot in command’ operator at a maximum altitude of 400 feet,” Braden Perry, an attorney at Kennyhertz Perry, said. “Prior to the new rules, you had to have a pilot’s license to operate an unmanned aircraft. Most companies cannot afford to hire a pilot solely to pilot a drone. The certification for remote pilot in command is not strenuous, and generally any adult can get one at little cost, and very quickly. This opens the doors for almost any company to utilize unmanned aircraft technology in their business.”
Applications for UAVs in business
So far, businesses have used drones largely in video and photography, especially for marketing purposes, but there are many other applications of UAV technology that might surprise you. From agriculture to internet access, drones are a multipurpose tool that offers the potential to reimagine some of the most critical ways humanity operates.
“The only limit is a person’s imagination,” Brian Opp, manager of aerospace business development at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said. “I’ve heard [drones] compared to the internet a number of times. I don’t know if drones will be as world-changing, but there are certainly so many commercial applications that can have a positive impact, either on a business’s bottom line or by making jobs safer.”
“I just think that the drone industry is — no pun intended — obviously going to take off,” Joshua Larson, founder of drone consultancy Breakover Services, said. “This technology can be used to do anything, as we’ve seen. The safest, most efficient way to get it out there is training and education for the people who will be flying in the airspace where manned aircraft are.”
Here’s how some pilots are already using drones, and how they might be used in the future for businesses both large and small.
Farmers can benefit from drones in several ways. In fact, many in the UAV industry cite agriculture as an enormous area of opportunity for drone technology. Not only can drones save farmers money by helping them identify failing plants early and take inventory of crops, but the machines can also be used to map and study the farmland and its irrigation systems. In each of these cases, utilizing drones helps expedite what are otherwise time-consuming projects.
“The drone is just the school bus. What’s important is the sensor capturing data and [the] software that’s really forming that data-analytics piece and hoping to extrapolate the useful information out of that,” Opp said.
In addition, drones can be equipped to spray pesticides, fertilizers or water on crops. Each UAV is like a far cheaper mini-crop duster. And for farms with livestock, drones can also be used to monitor the animals and quickly gather and track useful data about animal health and population.
Architecture and construction
Architectural firms and construction contractors are also benefitting from the use of drones. Much like professionals in real estate, architects can use images and footage of a property to create 3D renderings of the structures they aim to build.
By cheaply and quickly creating aerial shots on which to place an architectural rendering, architects can create real-world concepts of their projects. This ability is indispensable to creating accurate designs and understanding how they fit within properties.
Access to these plans during the construction project is also useful to the people actually bringing the design to life.
The FAA and the regulatory landscape
The new regulations streamline the process to legally operate a drone for commercial purposes. Many entrepreneurs are hailing the changes as a step forward that eases the process of expanding commercial drone operations. Among the changes included in the Part 107 update are relaxed standards for pilots and the removal of the “Section 333 exemption,” which was previously required for commercial operations.
MacOS Sierra, the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system, packs new features to help you get things done. The updated platform includes new security features, better file management and the introduction of Siri — Apple’s virtual assistant app, previously available only on iPhones and iPads — to the desktop.
Siri has been a boon to mobile workers for years on the iPhone and iPad, but it’s only with the release of MacOS Sierra that the virtual assistant app is coming to the desktop. Siri can be launched manually by clicking an icon located on the top-right corner of the screen, or summoned with a voice command. From there, the app can streamline all sorts of tasks, from scheduling meetings to setting reminders. It can even sift through your documents and email to find exactly what you need at any given time.
Last year, Apple introduced a slew of features to help iPhones and iPads work seamlessly with Macs. This year, the company is adding to its so-called Continuity features. First up is the ability to view and access all of your desktop files and folders on your iPhone. The files are automatically synced across your devices with the help of iCloud.
Then, there’s Universal Clipboard, a new tool that will let you easily copy text, photos and more from an iPhone or iPad to your Mac. That will help workers seamlessly transition between their desktop and mobile devices without missing a beat.
Apple says the new Auto Unlock feature will make Macs more secure for iPhone or Apple Watch owners. Auto Unlock allows you to pair your Mac desktop or laptop with your mobile device via Bluetooth. After that, your computer will unlock itself whenever it detects the phone or watch is nearby. Workers tired of fussing with passwords will be pleased.
Using your MacBook for work can fill up your hard drive quickly. A new feature, dubbed optimized storage, will automatically free up space on your computer by transferring files to the cloud when they haven’t been used in a while. It will also automatically clear out junk files, like web caches and inactive downloads.
Photo editing apps are a must for businesses that use smartphones or tablets to take photos.
Smartphone and tablet cameras are better than ever, turning Average Joes into instant professional photographers. Still, smartphone and tablet snapshots are far from perfect. Photos can come out looking flat, dull or otherwise lifeless. Whether you share photos on social media or use them on your website or online store, a quick editing session with a photo editing app can make a world of difference in attracting customers with beautiful works of art.
To help you wade through the sea of photo editing apps available at app stores, here are some of the best for iOS and Android.
Sometimes, your shot is picture perfect — except for that one little blemish, glare or unwanted object. If you simply need to touch-up a photo, check out TouchRetouch.
TouchRetouch lets you quickly and easily remove all sorts of elements from a photo, such as shadows, lights, people, buildings, wires, spots in the sky, backgrounds and more. All you have to do is highlight areas you want eliminated by tracing it with your finger, and then tap Start. TouchRetouch does all the hard work for you.
The app also lets you perfect faces by retouching imperfections, evening out skin tones and smoothing the skin’s surface. And unlike many retouching apps that distort images post-edit, TouchRetouch maintains the quality of your photos so it’s not obvious that they have been edited.
Other features include a clone stamp tool to fill in any gaps, match backgrounds or duplicate elements, as well as unlimited undo and redo, 1:1 view and social media sharing via Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and Flickr. In-app video tutorials are also available to help you use and get the most out of the app.
Ask any Instagram power user or iPhone photographer and Snapseed is likely on the top of their list. Snapseed, by Google, is a free iOS and Android app that offers a slew of professional-level photo editing features.
To polish photos, the Auto Correct feature enhances colors, exposure and contrast in a single tap. The Tune Image feature tweaks brightness, ambience, highlights, shadows, saturation and other effects, and the Selective Adjust feature also lets you highlight and focus specific areas. Other features include frames, texture and tone adjustment, and sharing via email, Google+ and more.
Another great feature is the Brush tool, which lets you selectively edit different parts of a photo, for instance, manually adjust the saturation or exposure of a single object in a frame and not the entire photo.
The app also comes with several filters and effects to give your photos a unique look and feel. This includes classic Black & White, Vintage, Drama, Grunge and Retrolux, which adds scratches, film styles and other embellishments to give your photos a retro vibe.
Get Snapseed from the Apple App Store and Google Play.
VSCO is another favorite photo editing app amongst for iPhone photographers. VSCO — which stands for Visual Supply Company — is an all-in-one camera and photo editing app.
VSCO’s main draw are its wide range of filters. The app lets you adjust the strength of each filter manually by using a slider, giving you full control over its intensity. In addition to filters, you can further edit photos by fine tuning its exposure, contrast, sharpness, saturation, highlights, tin, temperature and fade.
In addition to editing tools, VSCO comes with a neat Sync & Edit feature that syncs your workflow across devices. For instance, you can take a photo and start editing it on your iPhone, and then finish your work on your iPad. VSCO also maintains the quality of your images by keeping high-resolution versions of your photos even after many rounds of editing on different devices.
VSCO also offers a robust organization system using its Photo Library. There you have the choice of displaying photos you’ve taken using the VSCO camera, photos you’ve edited and your favorite photos, as well as add existing photos from your phone’s native photo gallery.
Don’t settle for your iPhone’s stock address book. Other apps offer deeper functionality to help you manage and keep track of your business contacts. FullContact is our favorite, adding extra features like the ability to consolidate your contacts from various sources across the Web, including Google contacts, Microsoft Exchange and Office 365 accounts, and even social media profiles. That way you can easily get in touch with the right person without rifling through multiple sources. Speaking of social media, FullContact can connect to platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, so you can see what your contacts have been up to without leaving the app.
If you’ve ever had trouble remembering who’s who in your address book, Connect Contact Manager is a pretty good solution. The core functionality of this iPhone apps is the ability to sort your contacts into customizable categories. For example, you might separate clients from vendors, making your contacts list much easier to browse at a glance. Adding or removing a contact can be done with a couple of quick taps, and you can move contacts from one list to another with a swipe.
Swapping business cards is a time-tested way to introduce yourself to a new business contact — but in the age of the smartphone, it’s a little old fashioned. Paper cards are easy to lose, and inputting all that contact information into your phone’s address book by hand is tedious. With apps like CamCard for iOS, turning a paper card into a digital contact is easy. Just point your iPhone camera at a business card, and snap a photo. The app’s text-recognition software will even pull out the key details – including their name, phone number, email, business name and more – and update your address book automatically.